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Eros und the club of Herakles

The occasion for this article was this coin from Hadrianopolis. In the course of my research, however, it has slowly developed into a larger overview of the relationship between Eros and Herakles, so that the old title is actually too narrow. Nevertheless, I have decided to keep it.

Coin #1:
Thrace, Hadrianopolis, pseudo-autonomous, time of Commodus, ca. 181-192.
AE - AE 19, 2.92g, 18.92mm, 210°.
          Bust of Herakles, bearded, r.
         Eros standing l., holding club of Herakles, supported by a second Eros,
         bent right
Ref.: Jurukova Hadrianopolis, 711 (V299/R669); not in SNG Copenhagen.
rare, F+, green patina

The obverse shows the portrait of the adult Herakles, who is considered the founder (ktistes) of Hadrianopolis. The legend here is in the rare Accusativus in the sense of "(We honour) the Ktistes".

More interesting, however, is the depiction on the reverse. It shows 2 small Erotes playing with the club of Herakles, for them a huge object. This scene fits seamlessly into a series of pictures in which Eros or several Erotes occupy themselves with attributes of Heracles, play with them or even steal and appropriate them. What's behind it?

This typography was developed in Hellenism and the Roman period. But Eros was not the first to appropriate attributes of Herakles. Already in mythological prehistory, there were small creatures that stole from Herakles, for example the Kerkopes.

(1) The Kerkopes, sons of Theia and Okeanos, were small, ape-like creatures who assisted Zeus against the Titans.  They lived as thieves and swindlers. But their mother had warned them, "My little white butts, you must first meet the big black butt!". Once they came across Herakles sleeping under a tree and immediately tried to steal his armour. Herakles, however, caught the thieves and, to punish them, he carried them over his shoulder on a branch from which they hung down headfirst. As he did so, they could see his black and hairy buttocks and made fun of them. Herakles also had to laugh and finally he let them go. This happened at the time when he was a slave to Omphale.

(2) At the end of the archaic period satyrs appeared on the scene. There is even an opinion that the first satyr play was about the theft of Herakles' weapons; for this seems to be depicted on a krater of 510/500 BC.

In later depictions, the satyrs are not only shown stealing Herakles' equipment, but also disguising themselves as Herakles in possession of it. The fatigue and exhaustion of Herakles is often emphasised, which is not a consequence of his hard works, but of his gluttony and drunkenness.

Art history:
In the 5th century BC, Eros is shown with objects that do not belong to him. The most impressive was probably the shield of Alkibiades, which was adorned with an Eros carrying Zeus' bundle of lightning. This was of course meant as a provocation. The lightning bundle of the highest and most powerful god was of course not made for the delicate hands of this youthful god. The fact that an image could embody a logical contradiction was a great discovery at the time (Susan Woodford). This opened up a way for artists to reveal even previously hidden truths. In time, the novelty of it disappeared and such images became commonplace and simply decorative motifs. But in the 5th and 4th centuries they were still fresh and impressive.

The sculptor Lysipp was a very innovative artist who was known for seeing old motifs in a new way. Two poems in the Greek Anthology of Hellenistic Epigrams describe a statue of Herakles in which Lysipp is said to have depicted the hero sadly, without his lion skin, club and quiver. These had all been stolen from him by Eros.

Lukian writes that in the 4th century B.C. the painter Aetion designed a group of small Erotes playing with Alexander's weapons in his painting "The Marriage of Alexander and Roxane", two of them carrying his spear while two others drag his shield by the handles. This motif was taken up again in the Renaissance, for example by Giovanni Antonio Bazzo, called Sodoma (1477-1549) in his fresco of around 1511/18 in the Villa Farnesina in Rome.

Eros steals the weapons of Herakles
This theme is further developed in Pompeian wall paintings depicting Herakles and Omphale. The appearance of Omphale, whom Herakles had to serve as a slave, shows that the mightiest hero could be conquered by delicate deities as well as by a woman. Some erotes seem to be carrying the stolen weapons to an altar, and A. Greifenhagen (1965) thinks that they want to consecrate the weapons to Aphrodite, so that the paintings celebrate the triumph of love.

A third painting in the Casa del Sirico in Pompeii shows the seated figure of Dionysos above: the power of wine together with the power of love can disarm the hero and thus show us that even Herakles is not armed against the temptations of the flesh.

All 3 images show Herakles youthful, beardless, clothed and together with Omphale. But there is a third type of picture in which Herakles is deprived: There Herakles is older, bearded, naked and alone with the little robbers. In the oldest example from the 3rd -1st century BC Herakles is asleep, in the others he has woken up, sometimes trying to grab an Erot. As in the pictures with Omphale, contrasts are played with here: old and young, passive and active, big and small.

Eros with the weapons of Herakles
Over time, 3 main variants have developed:
(1) Several small Eros are dragging away or tampering with the armour of Herakles, alone or in the presence of the hero. Our 1st coin belongs to this type!

(2) Eros as an infant sleeping on the lion skin of Herakles with the club beside him, also torch! To this type belongs our next coin:

Coin #2:
Moesia inferior, Nicopolis ad Istrum, Commodus, 177-192.
AE 17, 3.89g
         Laureate head r.
        Eros, lying crossed-legged on lion's skin l., resting his head in the
         l. hand; in front of him the torch.
Ref.: a) not in AMNG
         b) not in Varbanov
         c) not in Hristova-Hoeft-Jekov (2020):
             Rev. not listed
             Obv. e.g. No.
        probably unpublished
extremely rare, VF, dark green patina   
ex Gorny&Mosch Auction 265, Lot 726
ex coll. Erwin Link (Stuttgart)

(3) The childlike Eros standing dressed in lion skin and holding the club, a type that also exists without wings and represents a child-Herakles in a non-mythological form. As an example, I show here the terracotta statuette from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA): Eros, winged, has disguised himself as Herakles. It dates from the Hellenistic or Imperial period, 1st century BC, - 1st century AD, and was found in Myrina, Turkey, in 1892.
This playful representation of Eros refers to a Hellenistic epigram describing a statue of Herakles by Lysipp (see above). Here Eros holds his hands behind his back like the famous Herakles Farnese with the apples of the Hesperides.

Of course, images of Eros with the attributes of Herakles can simply be playfulness, but on a deeper level they serve to bring to mind that Eros' all-dominating power is only masked by his small size and tender age. Terence: Omnia vicit amor!

I have attached:
(1) A photo of the fresco of Giovanni Antonio Bazzo, called Sodoma (1477-1549)
(2) A photo of the terracotta statuette from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston (MFA)

(1) Nonnus, Dionysiaka
(2) Lukian

(1) Hristova-Hoeft-Jekov, The Coinage of Nicopolis ad Istrum, 2020
(2) Francis Jarman, Eros in Coinage
(2) Susan Woodford, Herakles' Attributes and their appropriation by Eros, The Journal
      of Hellenistic Studies, Vol. 109, November 1989
(3) Adolf Kaegi, Kurzgefasste griechische Schulgrammatik, 1957
(5) Wikipedia

Best regards

The Holy City Council

The Coin:
Caria, Trapezopolis, pseudo-autonomous, AD 150-250
AE 18, 3.29g, 18.44mm, 180°.
         Bust of Boule, draped and veiled, r.
         Kybele, in girdled double chiton, wearing kalathos, standing frontal, holding
         outward-turned hands over 2 lions, seated r. and l. beside her with raised paws
Ref.: SNG Tübingen 3505; Martin 12; Mionnet Supp.6, 554; RPC IV.2 online, 9243
rare, VF, brown-green patina

Our coin comes from Trapezopolis in Caria in the present province of Denizli in Turkey On the reverse the goddess Kybele is depicted with 2 lions at her side. What interests us here, however, is the front, which shows the female bust of Boule, draped and veiled to the right. The veil is the expression of her honour. The legend IEPA - BOVΛH translates as the "Holy City Council". Yes, those were the days when the local council was still holy! True, even today it often behaves as if it is sacrosanct and unassailable, but fortunately those days are gone. And one should remember that as a counterpart to the sacred city council there was also the IEPOΣ ΔHMOΣ, the sacred people of the state or the sacred community of citizens, from which our concept of democracy derives.

The Boule originated in Athens and belongs to the beginning of Attic democracy. At first it was exclusively for nobles, but then every unbowed citizen was allowed to become a member. It decided on the budget, the fleet and impeachments. In Roman times, the principle of oligarchy prevailed again, membership was only possible for a circle of wealthy citizens. And their powers were limited to local tasks. The meeting of the Boule took place in a special building, the Bouleuterion, a richly decorated building usually near the Agora, the market place and centre of the city.

In inscriptions, the Boule is always mentioned first, where it says, for example, "The Boule and the Demos have issued the following decree". But it is striking that on coins the Boule is always depicted on the smaller denominations than the Demos. Since nothing was random in this period, as is so often the case today, this can only mean that the Demos, the people, was above the Boule, the council assembly, in the hierarchy, which is actually understandable, since the latter consisted of only a part of the city people.

The coin depicted comes from Asia Minor at the time of the Roman Empire. The depictions of the Boule, the Demos and other institutions of the Greek polis were intended to convey the message that these late Hellenised (Martin) cities were also part of the great tradition of Greek history and, despite being part of the Roman provincial administration, did not need to hide from the famous classical cities.

The coin does not show the image of an emperor and is therefore called "pseudo-autonomous". It reflects an autonomy that had in fact long since ceased to exist. The terms "holy city council" or "holy community of citizens" still recall the old traditions, but in fact the rights of the cities and their institutions were severely curtailed. We know that today, too. There, the city council cannot decide for itself how wide a planned road can be, or whether or not cars may overtake each other on the road to the next town. Times do not seem to have changed after all. All the more reason for today's local councillors to take care that they fulfil their task of controlling the administration and do not degrade themselves to insignificance. I had this article published as a letter to the editor in view of the current situation, since our local council is known for its uncritical approval of all proposals from the administration.

I have attached the photo of the Bouleuterion of Aphrodisias in Caria (own photo from 2011)

(1) Der  Kleine  Pauly
(2) Katharina Martin, Demos.Boule.Gerousia: Personifikationen  städtischer  Institutionen auf  kaiserzeitlichen  Münzen  aus  Kleinasien,  Münster  2013
     (The standard reference!)
(3) Katharina Martin, Demos und Boule auf Münzen phrygischer Städte. Überlegungen zu Ikonographie  und  Funktion  von  Münzbildern
(4)  Wikipedia

Best regarss

Gerusia - the Council of Elders

The Coin:
Caria, Antiocheia ad Maeandrum, pseudo-autonomous, 3rd century AD.
AE 20, 4.93g, 19.68mm, 180°.
        Bust of Gerusia, draped, r.
        Athena in double chiton and helmet standing  l., holding in left arm shield and spear and in outstretched right hand patera.
Ref.: BMC 18; not in RPC
very rare, VF-

The Gerusia, the Council of Elders, originated in Sparta. It consisted of 28 citizens of Sparta, the gerontes (from Greek γέρων = old man), who had to be at least 60 years old. Thus it roughly corresponded to the Roman Senate (from Latin senex = old man). The two kings always belonged to it. In the 7th century, the Gerusia was made one of the central organs of state, along with the Ephores and the People's Assembly. The text of the oldest Greek constitution is attributed to Lycurgus and has been handed down to us by Plutarch. According to him, it was an oracle saying from Delphi that was presented to Lycurgus. Plutarch himself held a priesthood at the temple of Apollo in Delphi from 95. According to current research, Lykurg is probably not a historical but a mythical person.

In fact, however, it was not a single act, but developed gradually. As a result of the Messenian wars, the Spartan territory had expanded to such an extent that it required a new ruling and administrative structure. At the same time, it was intended to counteract a concentration of power in the hands of a few. The gerontes were elected for life. They decided which motions were submitted to the People's Assembly and which were not. They had the right to revoke or prevent decisions of the People's Assembly. Thus they formed an important political interface in the Spartan state. However, it is historically known that they were corruptible.

In the classical period, however, the Gerusia did not appear frequently. Through democratic developments, which also touched Sparta, their function became less and less important politically. Aristotle criticised the Spartan Gerusia in the strongest terms, in particular the much too high age of its members and the "childish" selection procedure (Wikipedia). This consisted of shouting as loud as possible! A procedure that was easy to manipulate.

The personification of Gerusia has no predecessor in Classical and Hellenistic art. Coins depicting her did not appear until the time of the Flavians, whereby these representations show a greater variety than those of the Boule (Martin). While on our coin Gerusia appears as an elderly matron, on other coins she is a youth. This also exists in Aphrodisias. It is possible that this different representation also denotes different institutions. In Ephesus, for example, a C. Vibius Saltutaris at the time of the Antonines consecrated a silver statue to the holy Gerusia, by whom he understood the Boule of the city (Martin).

I have attached a picture of the oil painting "Lycurgus of Sparta", 1791, by Jacques-Louis David (748-1825), Musee des Beaux-Arts de Blois (Wikidata).

(1) Plutarch, Life of Lykurg
(2) Katharina Martin, Boule.Demos.Gerousia, Münster 2013
(3) Der Kleine Pauly
(4) Wikipedia

Best regards

The turtle

The turtle is the characteristic image on the ancient coins of Aigina/Attica. But there are also others. For example, the following:

Coin #1:
Cilicia, Mallos, 440-380 BC.
AR - Obol, 0.73g
Obv.: turtle from above
Rev.: androkephalic bull protome n. l. in square incus
Ref.: not listed in the standard works
         Obv.:  cf. SNG Levant 186
         Rev.:  cf. SNG Ashmolean 1735; cf. Rauch 96, 2014, lot 107; CNG e-Sale 380, 2016, lot 272
Very rare, VF, some horn silver plating.

Chelone was a nymph who lived on the banks of a river at Mount Chelydorea in Arcadia in southern Greece. For his wedding with Hera, Zeus had Hermes invite all the gods, men and animals. All accepted this invitation except Chelone, who scoffed at the wedding. When Hermes noticed this, he went back to earth and threw her together with her house into the river, thus transforming her into a turtle that had to carry her shell on its back. Because of her mockery she was condemned to eternal muteness (Servius, Commentary on Virgil, Aeneid). The turtle was a symbol of silence in Greece.
Aesop knows more details in his fables: Zeus did not know why she was not present and asked Chelone the reason. She replied: "Be it ever so humble, there is no place like one's home".

Meanwhile feminists have also taken up this issue. Their explanation: Chelone saw through the fact that this marriage was meant to serve the patriarchal purpose of the mainland Greeks, and that it was meant to severely curtail the rights and importance of the all-embracing and ancient mother goddess Hera. Well, well. 

Hermes invents the lyre
Chelydorea was the name in ancient times for a 1759m high mountain range in Arcadia and in the Achaean Pellene, a part of the Kyllene mountain range that advanced to the north. The name means "de-shelter of the turtle". It was known for its abundance of tortoises (Pausanias). On it, the legend has Hermes inventing the lyre.

Hermes was born of Maja, who had been seduced by Jupiter, in a cave in the Kyllene Mountains. Already on the day of his birth he stole the tools of several gods, even Zeus' sceptre. He sneaked out of the cradle and drove away the cattle Apollo was tending. So that they would not make any noise, he put shoes on them. He slaughtered and ate two of them. On the way back to Kyllene he found a turtle, cleaned its shell and stretched the sinews of the slaughtered cattle over it as strings. Apollo searched for his cattle and learned that Hermes had been the thief. When Hermes, supported by Maja, denied the crime, Apollo brought him before Zeus, where he admitted nothing. Zeus then returned the cattle to Apollo. When Apollo heard Hermes play the lyre he had just invented, he liked it so much that he gave him his cattle in exchange for the lyre. Later Apollo gave the lyre to his son Orpheus. In Hellenism, the lyre was a symbol of poets and thinkers, from which the term lyricism later developed.

An ancient riddle read:
κριον εχω γενεθρα, τεκεν δε με τωδε γελωνη; τικτομενη δ'αμφω πεφνον ερνους γονεας.
Father to me is the ram, the tortoise is my mother, but at birth I gave death to both.
Answer: Of course this is Lyra, also called Chelys in Greek, which is poet. the turtle;  It is also the lyre made from the shell of the turtle. Its arms were often made of rams' horns. It is often difficult to distinguish from the cithara, but the latter, unlike the lyre, has a foot.

Coin #2
Syria, Antiochia ad Orontem, pseudo-autonomous, 54-68 (time of Nero).
AE 16, 4.55g, 0°
struck 59/60 (year 108 of the Caesarian era)
Obv.: Head of Apollo, wearing diadem and necklace, r., in pearl circle
Rev.: ANTIOXE - ET HP (year 108)
Ref.: BMC 88; RPC 4293; SNG Copenhagen 108; SNG Munich 679; SNG Righetti 1899 
VF+, sand encrustations on black patina

We have seen that Hermes is closely associated with the tortoise. Therefore, it is no wonder that he is often depicted together with her. A famous statue of Lysipp (around 330 BC) is the so-called "sandal-binder", a copy of which was found in the Villa Adriana in Tivoli. In the meantime, thanks to von Mosch, we know that it is not a "sandal-binder" but a "sandal-solver". He is depicted on large bronzes from Markianopolis.

Coin #3:
Moesia inferior, Markianopolis, Philip II as Caesar & Serapis, 244-247.
AE 27, 13.94g, 26.96mm, 30°
struck under governor Prastina Messalinus
         Facing busts of Philip II, draped and cuirassed,  r., and Serapis, draped, with kalathos, l.
        Hermes, nude,  standing left bent forward and facing front, the r. foot placed on
        a  ram's head, the left arm covered with the chlamys resting on the right knee;
        on the ground between his feet a turtle. l., behind him a tree stump with a kerykeion 
        before and a second indistinct object
        in the left field E (for Pentassarion)
Ref.: a) AMNG I/1, 1209, pl. XVI, 25  (2 ex., Philippopel, Sophia Tacchella revue num. 1893, 73, 23)
          b) Varbanov 2107
          c) Hristova/Jekov (2014) No.
rare, almost SS, shiny, dark green patina.
ex CNG electronic auction 215, lot 390
ex coll. J.P.Righetti, No. 10008

In the statue of Lysipp, the ram's head and the turtle are not present. Here the artist has thankfully added both!

The tortoise in the military:
The Greek chelone was a siege engine with a roof on top for protection against shelling. It was also used by the Romans.

The best known, however, is the Roman turtle formation (Latin testudo = "tortoise"), which was developed during the time of Gaius Iulius Caesar. It consisted of a square formation of soldiers with angular shields (scutum). The first row held their shields forward, the following ones high above their heads so that they overlapped. This allowed the formation to move forward even under heavy fire, but only slowly because it was very cumbersome. The testudo could only be exercised by carefully trained soldiers and, above all, had to be broken up again in good time; otherwise it would have become a helpless victim of the enemy in close combat. The picture is from Trajan's Column (Wikipedia, Cristian Chirita)

The Death of Aischylos
An unfortunate role was played by a tortoise in the death of Aischylos in 456 BC, according to Valerius Maximus.Aischylos (525 - 456 BC) was the oldest of the great Greek tragedian poets.  Unfortunately, most of his works have been lost. But his last ones (e.g. "The Eumenides") are dramas of world literature hardly surpassed in their tragedy and depth of thought. Because he had been prophesied to die by falling objects, he stayed in the fields near Gela on his last trip to Sicily. There he was killed by a tortoise dropped by an eagle. The bird had mistaken Aischylos' head for a rock and used it to break open the tortoise's shell.

(1) Pausanias, Travels in Greece.
(2) Aesop, Fables
(3) Pliny, Naturalis Historia

(1) Benjamin Hederich, Gründliches mythologisches Lexikon, Leipzig 1770.
(2) Wilhelm Heinrich Roscher, Extensive Lexicon of Greek and Roman Mythology
(3) Hristova/Jekov, Marcianopolis (2014).
(4 Christian von Mosch, The Hermes of Lysipp(?) on the coins of Trapezous, Amastris and Marcianopolis, in Jahrbuch für Numismatik und Geldgeschichte 63, 2013.
(5)  K. Ohlert, Rätsel und Rätselspiele der alten Griechen, Berlin 1912.
(6)  Gemoll, Griechisch-Deutsches Schul- und Handwörterbuch, 1954
(7) The Kleiner Pauly
(9) Wikipedia

Best regards

Excursus: The race between Achilles and the tortoise

Probably the best-known paradoxon from antiquity is the race between Achilles and the tortoise, known as "Achilles". This paradoxon  originates from Zeno of Elea (ca. 490 - ca. 430 BC), the founder of dialectics, and has been handed down to us by Aristotle in his "Physics".

Achilles was known as the fastest runner in antiquity. When he entered a race with the tortoise, he gave the tortoise a fair head start. He should not have done so, for Zenon could prove that he could then never catch up with the tortoise, let alone overtake it. For if he wanted to overtake the tortoise, he would first have to reach the place where the tortoise had been before. But every time Achilles reached the tortoise's place, the tortoise had crawled a little further. Although the turtle's lead became smaller and smaller, it always remained. This obviously contradicts our observation. But where is the error in Zeno's chain of evidence?

Now you can read in any better mathematics book how to calculate when and where Achill will catch up with the turtle with the help of series expansions or limit value considerations. But that misses the real problem. It is about logic! What is wrong with the logic that Achilles must always - and I mean always - first reach the point where the tortoise was before? This raises the question of whether space is infinitely divisible. In logic as a thought experiment it is, but not in reality. There is Planck's constant, which sets limits to reality. And this shows that this paradoxon  is not located in reality, but in mental space. And that is why it must be solved there.

In recent times, a number of philosophers have dealt with the "Achilles" and have achieved astonishing results. The British philosopher James Thomson (1921-1984) developed the theory of "supertasks" in 1954. For this purpose, he invented various "machines", which are of course only thought experiments. One of them is "Thomson's lamp": A burning lamp is switched off after a time t, then switched on again after a time t/2, switched off again after t/4 and immediately. We know that mathematically the lamp enters its final state after a finite time. (see "Achilles"). But we do not know what state it is in then.

Another thought led to the "Pi machine." A thought machine calculates the infinite number of decimal places of pi one after the other. In the process, it needs only half as much time for each additional digit as for the digit before it. We know that mathematically this machine must stop after a finite time. The paradox then consists in the last digit of pi, which mathematically cannot exist. That is quite exciting!

The French-American philosopher Paul Benacerraf refuted Thomson's considerations in 1962, which led to new interest in infinity-related problems.

In the meantime, it has turned out that this problem is not only philosophical, but also plays a role in the real world. This was demonstrated in 1994 by measurements at the Ludwigs-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, which confirmed this paradox for measurements in the quantum world: the motion of a quantum system was shown to be brought to a standstill by a sequence of dense measurements alone, which led to the theoretical modelling of the quantum Zeno effect (Wikipedia)

Zeno's paradoxes challenged our notion of motion, time and space; the path to an answer was full of surprises.

The picture is taken from "Meinstein, school subjects simply explained". 

(1) Hermann Diels, The Fragments of the Presocratics, Rowohlts Klassiker 1957.
(2) The Presocratics, edited by Wilhelm Capelle, Kröner 1968.

(1) Adolf Grünbaum, Modern Science and Zeno's Paradoxes of Motion, in "Zeno's Paradoxes", edited by Wesley C. Salmon, The Bobbs-Merrill Company, Inc.
(2) William I. Laughlin, A Solution to Zeno's Paradoxes, Spektrum der Wissenschaft, January 1995.
(3) Nick Huggett, Zeno's Paradoxes, 2004, in "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy".
(4) Nicholas Falletta, Zenos Paradoxien, Hugendubel 1985
(5) Wikipedia

Best regards


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